Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
“Bob Dylan released Self Portrait and New Morning in 1970, two albums from an artistic evolution that continues to this day. Bob Dylan 1970 chronicles the road that led to their completion. This collection of recording sessions between March 3 and August 12, 1970 features three-and-a-half hours of unreleased outtakes that recount the development of those two albums. “Life isn’t about finding yourself or finding anything,” noted a contemporary Dylan in the recent film Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. “Life is about creating yourself.” What’s evident in these tracks is the immense satisfaction he derives from the act of creation. The multiple versions of the same song often vary in tempo, arrangement and vocal style – he was a sketch artist even in the recording studio…”Michael Simmons in the liner notes to Bob Dylan 1970
In August 1971, Bob Dylan returned to the stage following a four-year hiatus, returning to perform with Beatles’ guitarist George Harrison at Madison Square Garden in the famed “Concert for Bangladesh.” The event marked a significant turning point in Dylan’s career, as this post-motorcycle-accident appearance featured an acoustic set augmented by Harrison’s gentle guitar swirls.
The collection takes us back 50 years to the historic collaborations between these two musicians that were framed around Dylan’s Self Portrait and New Morning sessions. A segment of this particular collection is comprised of outtakes from the work Harrison and Dylan did together, and the songs remain illuminating on a multiplicity of levels. Nonetheless, since these outtakes originate from the same period as the Another Self Portrait and Travelin’ Thru volumes, some are likely to ask – “What’s the point? What’s really new here?”
Ultimately, this collection compels because it shows the creative process in motion, allowing us to enter the studio alongside Dylan and Harrison to see exactly how songs are pieced together and how the final production is reached. Listeners should view this record as a living extension of Another Self Portrait. Accordingly, there’s a lot to digest here – like multiple takes of classics like “If Not For You” and “Went To See Gypsy,” in addition to sweet covers of well-known pop hits that inspired both Dylan and Harrison (“Thirsty Boots;” “Universal Soldier;” “Cupid;” ”I Met Him On A Sunday”).
But for my money, the centerpiece of the set is found in the version of “Gates Of Eden” (Take 1; Disc 2). This performance spotlights the boundless dimensions of the poem juxtaposed with Dylan’s psyche 6 years after he wrote the piece. The intricate interplay between Dylan’s voice and Harrison’s guitar work captivates, commanding multiple rewinds. This is the very playing Harrison displayed on the best of those Beatles’ albums, and when paired with Dylan’s 1970s’ voice, the result is truly stunning. Other standout tracks include “Alligator Man;” “Spanish Is the Loving Tongue;” the haunting “Tomorrow Is A Long Time;” “Yesterday;” and Sign On The Window” from New Morning.
With 74 songs on three discs, there’s a huge amount of music here that will thrill and intrigue dedicated listeners. Still, some might be disappointed that there are no big ‘surprise’ songs and no monumental discoveries. And they will have missed the point entirely. In sum, this record extends and helps define the idea of the famed Bootleg Series (even though this particular collection is not part of that series), shedding light on what the old art of bootlegging was all about. The little hidden gems that fill up the bellies of these records are what those 1960s music pirates were after when they were secretly taping Dylan’s every utterance.
In the end, listeners should not lose sight of the fact that the aforementioned Bootleg Series isn’t all about major discoveries. Rather, the underlying point is to understand the reason why so many fans want to own all of the outtakes from 60 years worth of recording sessions: There’s gold in these in half songs; and there’s a point of illumination that comes in watching an artist ply his craft at the canvas.
When you finally reach the last track of Dylan 1970, you’ll likely ask: “Just what else does Columbia have in those vaults that we haven’t heard?” And that question, then, serves as further testament to the vast reach of Bob Dylan’s work as we bare witness to one of the most complex and impactful artists to appear in the last 200 years.